As jury selection began yesterday in the trial of Jerry Sandusky, the disgraced former Penn State assistant football coach who faces 52 charges related to the alleged abuse of 10 boys over 15 years, another troubling aspect of the trial emerged for advocates of childhood abuse victims.
Judge John Cleland denied victims’ requests to protect their identities on the witness stand.
The alleged victims, previously identified with numbers 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7, had asked they be permitted to use pseudonyms during the trial to protect their privacy.
Though the defense did not object, the judge said there was no legal basis to grant the request.
“While I will make every effort to be sensitive to the nature of the alleged victims’ testimony, once the trial begins the veil must be lifted,” Cleland wrote.
“Courts are not customarily in the business of withholding information. Secrecy is thought to be inconsistent with the openness required to assure the public that the law is being administered fairly and applied faithfully,” according to State College News.
“It’s almost as if he’s being branded with a scarlet letter,” Ben Andreozzi said of his client, one of the victims, according to the Associated Press via ABC News. “This is something he may not ever be able to escape from — ‘Oh, he’s one of Jerry Sandusky’s victims.’”
Sexual abuse victims’ advocates were chilled by the ruling.
The case and the media attention it will bring will be difficult for victims of childhood sexual abuse to endure, and this decision may now create a new obstacle for victimized children to come forward.
“Anonymity for survivors is paramount in court cases dealing with sexual abuse and assault.,” Jennifer Marsh, director of the National Sexual Assault Hotline at RAINN, the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network, told me.
“A survivor may share the most painful moments of his or her life during the course of a trial, and it can be difficult for many survivors to speak about these intimate details in court.
“This experience is amplified when a survivor’s identity is revealed and these details become associated with their name publicly, leaving them and their loved ones vulnerable to negative attention. Many survivors see their day in court as an opportunity to seek justice for the crime committed against him or her. It should not be an experience, which can lead to additional trauma.
“We need to do everything in our power to encourage survivors to be involved with the prosecution to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable and put behind bars, where they belong.”
What do you think? Should alleged adult victims of childhood sexual abuse victims be allowed to use pseudonyms? Why or why not?